"The virus is spreading across France at a speed that even the most pessimistic did not predict," said President Macron while conceding his government's failure to stop the second wave of cases.

Pedestrians cross a street located in the mandatory face mask zone to limit Covid-19 infections in Bordeaux, France, on October 28, 2020.
Pedestrians cross a street located in the mandatory face mask zone to limit Covid-19 infections in Bordeaux, France, on October 28, 2020. (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a new coronavirus lockdown until at least December 1, hoping to bring under control an outbreak that is poised to overwhelm hospitals in a matter of days. 

"The virus is spreading across France at a speed that even the most pessimistic did not predict," Macron said in a highly anticipated television address on Wednesday.

He admitted that a curfew for Paris and other major cities imposed two weeks ago had failed to stop the second wave of cases that has sent the death toll in France to nearly 35,000.

"As elsewhere in Europe, we are overwhelmed by a second wave that will probably be more difficult and deadly than the first," Macron said.

"If we did nothing... within a few months we would have at least 400,000 additional deaths," he said. 

Already more than 3,000 intensive care patients are forcing hospitals to scramble for beds, and "no matter what we do, nearly 9,000 people will be in intensive care by mid-November," he warned.

The Sante Publique France health agency reported 244 new virus deaths over the past 24 hours, and more than 36,000 new positive tests.

Schools to operate normally

Under new measures, bars, restaurants, and non-essential businesses will be forced to close, but unlike during the two-month lockdown imposed last spring, students will continue to go to school.

People will still be allowed to go to work if their employer deems it impossible for them to do the job from home.

Factories and farms will also be allowed to operate, Macron said, and some public services will function, to limit the economic damage that would come from shutting down the country completely.

"Like last spring, you will be able to leave your home only for work, for a doctor's visit, to help a relative, do essential shopping or go out shortly for air," Macron said.

Written statements justifying being outside will be required, he said, suggesting that fines will again be issued for offenders.

"If in two weeks, we have the situation under better control, we will be able to re-evaluate things and hopefully open some businesses, in particular for the Christmas holiday," he said.

"I hope we'll be able to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with family," he said.

Macron added: "I have faith in us, in you, faith in our ability to overcome this challenge... We will get over this if we are united, and we are united."

READ MORE: French Covid-19 testers strike over work conditions as infections soar

Second wave in Europe

Like other European countries, France has seen a surge in coronavirus cases that could soon overwhelm the country's hospitals.

Macron said France would scramble to increase the number of available intensive care beds to 10,000, up from around 5,800 currently.

Germany also announced sweeping nationwide restrictions on Wednesday. 

The news that two of Europe's largest economies were partially locking down again sent world stock markets lower and comes after Ireland imposed less drastic measures last week.

Doctors have warned that intensive care units risk becoming overwhelmed.

France's death toll, at over 35,000, is the seventh highest in the world, according to Reuters data.

Earlier this month, Macron announced a night-time curfew in Paris and other big cities, but officials this week acknowledged that measure had proved insufficient to bring down infection rates, requiring a more drastic response.

READ MORE: Europe gears up for broad restrictions as global infections spike

Source: TRTWorld and agencies